I have done several blogs about Television, from its origins and Children’s Television. I have so many memories of television. After looking at some early heroes and a whole list of famous characters from television and radio I still had a few people and television programmes that I had kept back. I couldn’t fit them into my last television blog so here are the rest – it may still be too many for one more post! It’s a fairly random bunch left, in no particular order. (I have not attempted to be chronological.)
Dixon of Dock Green
This television series ran from 1955 to 1976 and like so much early television most of the episodes have been lost. It was about petty crime and the police at a police station in the fictional London area of Dock Green (based on Paddington Green.) Central to the series was its eponymous hero PC George Dixon played by Jack Warner in all of its 432 episodes. In those days it was all live television.
Dixon was a typical ‘bobby’ patrolling the streets and knowing everyone sympathetically. Policing used to be mainly done on foot in contrast to later series such as Z Cars from the mid-sixties, which reflected more violent crime and more aggressive police culture.
(Jack Warner was a well-known comedian and actor from before the War and was sixty when Dixon started. In later series he was too old for an active PC and the character Dixon became a desk sergeant as shown in the picture above.)
It was a very popular series and was well received by police forces for the way it portrayed police life. Another character was PC Andy Crawford, a new recruit at the beginning but soon to become a member of the family by marrying Dixon’s daughter – so in many ways Dixon was a paternal figure.
Every episode started with Jack Warner saluting and saying ‘Evening, all.’ (At first it was ‘Good evening, all’) And they would end with a few words of wisdom from Dixon and a final ‘Goodnight, all.’ He was so much seen as a real policeman that he would end each series saying that he would be on holiday for a few weeks.
I could say that we never missed an episode but in those days there were no other channels to watch.
The Lone Ranger (and other Westerns)
I suspect they all came from America but in the fifties and sixties Westerns formed a major genre for films and television programmes. They were about the early years when everyone carried and used a six-shooter and the Sheriff was the only law enforcement. As children we played ‘Cowboys and Indians.’ (It was long before political correctness and the ‘Indians’ – or ‘Redskins’ were always the baddies, routinely killing and scalping the cowboys. Nowadays we call them Native Americans – or at least that’s what they are called in the USA. We don’t have cause to talk about them here now that we don’t have Westerns.)
In particular, the Lone Ranger was a regular series on Children’s Television. The Lone Ranger was a character associated with books and films but mostly from television, running through the fifties on US television and repeated in the UK. It starred Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as his faithful Indian companion Tonto.
Every episode started with the hero on his white stallion, Silver, dashing off to the cry of “Hi-yo Silver!” And every episode ended with someone asking, “Who was that masked man?” with the reply, “He’s the Lone Ranger,” while the two galloped off into the distance. Other catch-phrases were Tonto calling his companion, “Kemo-sabe,” which meant something like ‘faithful friend’ in the fictional Indian dialect of Tonto; the use of silver bullets; and Rossini’s William Tell Overture as signature tune.
The Lone Ranger was supposed to be the only survivor from a group of Texas Rangers. To conceal his identity he wore a mask and was never unmasked. (Sometimes he used disguises without the mask.) The Lone Ranger kept to a strict moral and behavioural code: He used perfect grammar without slang; he never shot to kill, just to disarm; he never called himself the Lone Range but might sometimes present a silver bullet; he never drank or smoked – saloons looked more like cafes and he would drink a ‘sarsaparilla with a dash of cherry.’ [Wikipedia associates this with another Western series but I think it was the Lone Ranger.]
That Was the Week That Was
Known more often as TWTWTW or just TW3, this programme was a landmark in television with its satirical look at politics and World affairs – often aimed at the Prime Minister (Harold Macmillan) and his cabinet. Until then the Establishment was largely uncriticised. TW3 was not afraid to criticize politics, the monarchy, racism, the class system and even the BBC. It relied on up-to-the-minute news and ran live. It ran for just two years in 1962 and 1963 but introduced many familiar figures, especially David Frost.
I remember Bernard Levin, once punched by the person he was interviewing; Lance Percival with his improvised calypsos; Willie Rushton, Roy Kinnear and the singer Millicent Martin (local with Ilford connections.) The programme opened and closed with Millicent singing the theme tune with words about the news of the week and that particular broadcast.
It ran on Saturdays, late in the evening, and would over-run or under-run as the cast more or less improvised. Despite large viewing figures it was not continued after 1963 as the BBC feared it was affecting its impartial status.
Fondly remembered for its two main characters, Steptoe and Son was a comedy series of the mid-sixties (with a few more in the early seventies) about a father and son team of rag-and-bone men, perhaps a little after such employment was common. It was often dramatic and tragic in parts but the overall impression was of comedy. It was the first UK situation comedy to use actors rather than comedians.
(It originated from a single half-hour comedy in the Comedy Playhouse series of 1962, which was so well received that it generated the series later.)
The father, Albert Steptoe was a ‘dirty old man,’ in many senses, while his son, Harold had social aspirations and wanted greater things. [Wikipedia says of Albert: ‘He is lazy, stubborn, narrow-minded and foul-mouthed, and has revolting personal habits. He is content with his place in the world, utterly unpretentious and downright cynical. He can be extremely vindictive and does everything he can to prevent Harold, his son, from improving himself.’ Of Harold, it has: ‘He wants to move up in the world — most of all to escape from the family home and his stifling relationship with his father … He likes to see his business as antiques rather than junk.’]
The episodes generally revolved around disagreements between the two, Harold’s attempts to bed women and momentary interest over things found on his round. Much of the humour derives from pathos, especially Harold’s continually thwarted attempts to better himself and the love/hate relationship between the pair.
Albert almost always comes out on top, and routinely and effortlessly proves himself easily superior to his son whenever they compete, for example in their frequent game-playing, such as snooker, Scrabble and badminton. Harold takes them desperately seriously and sees them as symbols of his desire to improve himself, but his efforts come to nothing every time. His father’s success is partly down to superior talent but is aided by cynical gamesmanship and undermining of his son’s confidence. In addition, Albert habitually has better judgement than his son, who blunders into all sorts of con tricks and blind alleys as a result of his unrealistic, straw-clutching ideas.
This light entertainment show, which ran from the early fifties to the eighties, modelled itself on Victorian Music Hall. It recreated an authentic atmosphere with the audience dressing in period costume. Leonard Sachs was the compere and the audience joined in the singing, especially the closing song, ‘Down at the Old Bull and Bush.’ Over its long run it featured so many famous singers and comedians that it would be impossible to list a significant subset.
The Goons and the Goodies
The Goon Show was a radio comedy show of the fifties broadcast on the Home Service (which became Radio Four) with occasional repeats on the Light Programme (later Radio Two.) It was created by its main writer Spike Milligan, who was also one of its main characters. The others were Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe. (All three continued long after the Goons, Milligan as a comic, Sellers mainly as an actor and Secombe mainly as a singer.)
Its humour was surreal, often with bizarre sound effects, and it affected much of later British comedy.
There were regular character roles such as Neddie Seagoon, Eccles, Bluebottle, Jim Moriarty and Major Denis Bloodnok, each with their own contrived voices and several regular catchphrases which quickly moved into the popular speech – such as: “He’s fallen in the water!” “You dirty, rotten swine, you! You have deaded me!” and variations of “Ying Tong Iddle I Po.” You will, of course remember the novelty hit song “The Ying Tong Song,” from my blog about holidays and the third one about Music.
The Goodies, a television series of the seventies, was equally zany and surreal. (Yes, I know, it shouldn’t be here if it was seventies, but it’s my blog.) It was written by its three stars Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie.
The series’ basic structure revolved around the trio, always short of money, offering themselves for hire — with the tagline “We Do Anything, Anytime, Anywhere” — to perform all sorts of ridiculous but generally benevolent tasks. Under this loose pretext, the show explored all sorts of off-the-wall scenarios for comedic potential. The show featured extensive use of slapstick, often performed using sped-up photography and clever, low-budget, visual effects.
I remember this annual event as a spectacular variety show from early times. Wikipedia is not clear when it changed its name to the Royal Variety Performance or when it started being televised. It has always had major international stars performing there and the television presentation starts with the arrival of HM the Queen (or her representative from the Royal Family.) After the show we see the cast being presented to her before she departs. Of course it used to be live but now we have it the week after and its significance has diminished.
Sunday Night at the London Palladium
This was a British television variety show that was hosted from the London Palladium theatre in London’s West End, originally produced for the ITV network, from 1955 to 1969. The name was changed to The London Palladium Show in 1966. (There have been revivals in the seventies and this Century.)
Regular hosts included Tommy Trinder, Bruce Forsyth, Norman Vaughan, Jimmy Tarbuck, Jim Dale and Ted Rogers but it is mostly remembered for Bruce Forsyth. There were many other guest comperes for one or more shows
I remember it as a bit like the Royal Variety Show as it featured various acts, generally with a very well-known finale. It started with the Tiller Girls (glamourous synchronized dancers in the style of Busby Berkeley) and lesser acts in the first part and then there was the game show, Beat the Clock, the format of which was rather like Bruce Forsyth’s later programme, The Generation Game.
Current Affairs and Science
Panorama is a BBC Television current affairs documentary programme first broadcast in 1953 (and still running.) It has been presented by many presenters, but I remember mainly Richard Dimbleby, from 1955 until his death in 1965.
Tonight was a BBC television current affairs programme presented by Cliff Michelmore and broadcast live on weekday evenings from 1957 to 1965. It covered the arts and sciences as well as topical matters and current affairs with some light-hearted items. Reporters included Alan Whicker, Fyfe Robertson, Kenneth Allsop, Chris Brasher, Julian Pettifer, Brian Redhead and Polly Elwes.
The style was informal with no attempt to hide studio equipment. Sometimes Cliff Michelmore perched on the edge of his desk, unfazed by his desk telephone letting him know about technical problems. There were regular appearances from Cy Grant, singing a topical calypso (Like Lance Percival in TW3,) and folk singers Robin Hall and Jimmie MacGregor. Cliff Michelmore was known for his catchphrase when closing the show, “That’s all for tonight, the next ‘Tonight’ will be tomorrow night. Until then, good night!”
It was during an edition of Tonight broadcast on the evening of Friday 22 November 1963 that BBC television broke the news of the assassination of United States President John F. Kennedy to UK viewers.
Horizon is an ongoing and long-running British documentary television series on BBC, running since 1964, covering topics in science and philosophy.
Tomorrow’s World was a BBC television series on new developments in science and technology, transmitted from the mid-sixties until 2003. In its early days it was hosted by the former Spitfire pilot Raymond Baxter. (Raymond, who also gave radio commentary at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the funerals of King George VI, Winston Churchill and Lord Mountbatten of Burma, and the first flight of Concorde, was born in Ilford and educated at Ilford County High School, from which he was expelled after being caught smoking. He did not go on to a college or university. He was the only famous Old Parkonian I ever heard about while at school.)
Ok, I give in. I will split here; still more to come …